In The Bahamas, we have a very peculiar situation, overpopulation (or is it really a lack of planning) in the island of New Providence and vast under-population and under-utilization in our Family Islands. In response to this, many Bahamians feel that our Family Islands should be better exploited and promoted to reduce the population concentrations in New Providence. Furthermore, numerous scholars, politicians and concerned citizens have extolled the development of the Family Islands as critical to bringing about the seemingly elusive and nebulous economic diversification that so many Bahamians yearn for.
The recent commencement of construction of the Baha Mar project has rekindled the debates regarding the need to develop our Family Islands, Bahamianization, population growth in The Bahamas and diversification of our economy.
The multi-billion dollar Baha Mar project is being marketed as the key to the revitalization of the Cable Beach strip. However, many of the detractors and critics of the development either believe the project should never be built, or that it should have been built in one of the Family Islands.
Sometimes, one wonders whether all this talk about diversification and development of the Family Islands is all talk, grounded in impracticability or even impossibility. This got me thinking. Are there any examples from around the world of cities that sprung up in remote or difficult to reach areas based on public/private effort, coordination and initiative? After some research, I came upon the example of Brasilia (the capital city of Brazil), one of the major emerging markets today.
Why was Brasilia built?
President Juscelino Kubitschek initiated the development of Brasilia in the 1950s. The city became the capital of Brazil in 1960 in fulfillment of a constitutional provision calling for the relocation of the capital from the densely populated coastal region to a location further inland, in a central part of the country. The relocation of the Brazilian capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia was rationalized in part to engender a more regionally neutral federal government and reduce government and infrastructural discrepancies between coastal regions near the capital and the interior (does this sound familiar to anyone?).
Brasilia is a planned capital. Kubitschek invited renowned Brazilian architects and planners to propose their vision for a capital city in the interior. It was literally started from scratch, no significant human presence and no infrastructure was in place to support a large city, much less a nation's capital. However, a combination of government foresight and determination to construct a capital in the central part of the country in combination with highly-skilled Brazilian professionals, led to the creation of a city that today is a UNESCO world heritage site.
What can we learn from this example?
Originally, Brasilia was constructed to house mainly government officials and their families. However, it grew beyond expectation, as people from all over the country flocked to the new capital in search of opportunity. This suggests that when smart government policy facilitates new developments and ideas, citizens and investors will get inspired and help to develop nascent projects beyond initial projections and imagination. In other words, if our Bahamian government can plant the right seeds throughout our Family of Islands, I am confident that Bahamians and foreign investors alike will cultivate and nurture that seed into a sturdy, majestic and thriving tree. To that end, our government should begin to think critically and innovatively as to how we can better utilize the vast resources and land areas of our sparsely populated Family Islands.
I advocate a multi-pronged, targeted approach to Family Island development concentrating on educational, infrastructural, financial, entrepreneurial, and governmental ventures. Development projects that provide consistent and robust economic and employment opportunities combined with schools, infrastructure and recreational activities are essential to attracting families and investors to the Family Islands. Nonetheless, each island's fortune should not hinge on the profitability or existence of a single anchor project; instead the goal must be to develop a vibrant, diverse economy.
Setting up entrepreneurship and manufacturing incubators on one of the islands could assist in increasing economic activity and vitality on the Family Islands as well. The reality is that any attempt to create major cities on our Family Islands will be an expensive exercise indeed. Currently, we are in short supply of available funds and international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund are pressing our government to reduce spending.
In this challenging economic environment, it is a glaring understatement that it will be difficult for government to promote and subsidize Family Island development alone. Therefore, the government must be forward-thinking and creative if it is to effectively promote the development of the Family Islands. Hence, the government must provide financial incentives for entrepreneurs and larger companies to move to the various Family Islands and set up shop.
Recently, Standard & Poor's (S&P) downgraded The Bahamas' credit rating in part due to a change in the methodology used to rate countries. This new rating methodology places greater emphasis on economic diversification. This downgrade should spur our elected officials to swiftly and decisively move to diversify our economy in part by developing the Family Islands. Economic diversification is admittedly a daunting task in this economic environment, but our government must act now to strengthen our economy through economic diversification and Family Island development.
Rishard Cooper is a Bahamian international corporate attorney. E-mail feedback to email@example.com.
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